Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Help MPs be true lawmakers

Published:Monday | September 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
State opening of Parliament at Gordon House.

AFTER A much deserved four weeks of rest, members of parliament (MPs) will return tomorrow to legislative duties in the House of Representatives to conduct the people's business.

Parliament in 2013 passed 40 bills and appears on course to pass a similar number this year. But there is need for a new paradigm in the approach to legislation. For far too long, the agenda of the country has been dictated by the executive. MPs have been too comfortable with the status quo, with none seeming intent on breaking away from the establishment.

It is my sincere hope that parliamentarians, especially government backbenchers and the parliamentary opposition, will be a bit more active in legislative outcomes. One clear way for this is the use of private member's bills, something that has hardly been utilised, if any at all, in our Parliament.

A private member's bill in a parliamentary system of government is a bill introduced into the legislature by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the executive branch. The designation "private member's bill" is used in most Westminster system jurisdictions, in which a 'private member' is any member of parliament who is not a member of the Cabinet.

There has been an over-reliance on the use of private member's motions by MPs and truth be told, the executive branch has not been very responsive to those motions. Sure, some have resulted in policy and even changes to the laws but not on the scale that progressive governance requires.

For the greater good

Parliament, we should be reminded, exists to pass laws for the good governance of Jamaica. This means that, first and foremost, MPs are lawmakers. Surely, it would be to the greater glory of our people if we can muster the collective will to give MPs the tools necessary for them to carry out this task.

The Gavel has repeatedly called for MPs to be given greater research assistance, and today its my view that consideration should also be given to the creation of a cadre of lawyers to assist MPs in drafting private member's bills. The Constituency Development Fund could be called upon to underwrite the cost of such resource personnel.

In the meantime, The Gavel notes the comment by Horace Dalley, minister with responsibility for the public service, that a new procurement law is to be in place by the end of this month. Indeed, a bill was laid before the House of Representatives just before members went off for the summer break.

One only hopes the debate on the bill takes into consideration a study undertaken by the Ministry of Finance last year that revealed that project implementation is being hampered by procurement delays, weak institutional capacity, low project-manage-ment capacity within some public-sector entities and overambitious implementation plans and timelines.

The findings of the study which Devon Rowe, the financial secretary, promised would be presented to the Public Administration and Appropria-tions Committee of Parliament, has been under lock and key at Heroes Circle.

"There were some structural issues which involved poorly designed and developed projects, which indicate weaknesses in project development and weaknesses in the monitoring of project implementation," Rowe said last year.

When Dalley comes to pilot the bill through the House, he should also lay a copy of that report in the House. The need for a overhaul of the procurement process is impatient of debate as not only is the current system a mockery of the budgetary process, but it also breeds inefficiency and reduces the country's competitiveness.

One hopes the debate on this bill will be a robust one. At the same time, though not overly optimistic, I hope MPs will throw off the political party shackles and seek to make private member's bills a regular feature of Jamaica's legislative environment.

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